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This book examines the conceptual underpinnings of authentic leadership to discover why so little attention has been paid to gender. The author explores the failure to interrogate the complexities surrounding the concept of authenticity, especially as it relates to the diversity of lived experience.



1. Introduction

Several years ago I attended a fundraising event at which some women in the community were receiving awards for their work. The women honored came from different walks of life. Each gave a passionate speech that included thanking friends and colleagues for their part in the honoree’s success. However, the last speaker took a different route. In her speech she said ‘I’m an authentic leader.’ My immediate, visceral response was: ‘Isn’t that for others to judge?’ Little did I realize that my first encounter with the concept of authentic leadership would lead to this book, in which I consider the interconnections among gender, leadership and authenticity.
Rita A. Gardiner

2. Authentic Leadership

In this chapter, I consider the main tenets of authentic leadership scholarship, and bring them into conversation with the work of Hannah Arendt. In examining current scholarship, I suggest there is a tendency to privilege a leader’s self-knowledge. Such an approach may serve to suppress a plurality of perspectives and, in turn, work against the creation of a meaningful environment. Conversely, thinking with Arendt complements existing scholarship because it alerts us to the need to consider equality and difference. Specifically, her concept of uniqueness, understood as a person’s particular qualities and social location, together with her notion of plurality, or how we exist in a world of others, can deepen our understanding of how notions of authenticity informs leadership. The manner in which we see ourselves is always related to who we are in specific contexts. It is through action and speech that each individual reveals herself to others (Arendt, 1958, pp. 181–188). This individual unveiling is always related to a person’s cultural and socio-historical place in the world.
Rita A. Gardiner

3. Gendered Expectations

In response to an interview question from Günter Gaus, Hannah Arendt (1994a) referred to herself as having old-fashioned views about women leaders. She further contended: ‘It just doesn’t look good when a woman gives orders. She should try not to get into such a situation if she wants to remain feminine’ (p. 3). Arendt’s public statements regarding women leaders illustrate some common prejudices. Her stated bias against women leaders is still prevalent in Western society, as a recent survey by Kim Elsesser and Janet Lever (2011) illustrates. In this survey of 60,000 individuals in the United States, while 54 percent of people said that they had no preference regarding male or female bosses, of those remaining participants who expressed a preference, however, twice as many preferred to work for a male leader. Although prejudice against women leaders is lessening, it is still firmly embedded in the cultural imagination. This gender prejudice can have a deleterious effect given that some women leaders may assimilate dominant styles of leadership that merely serves to perpetuate structural inequities in the workplace and beyond.
Rita A. Gardiner

4. Enlightened Virtue

In a famous essay written in 1782, Immanuel Kant argued that it is only when a man is free to make his own choices that he can be said to be enlightened (pp. 58–65). In his opinion, ‘enlightened’ freedom was composed of three components: the ability to think for oneself; the ability to think from the standpoint of others; and, lastly, the capacity to think and act in concert with one’s beliefs. In this chapter, I examine how Enlightenment ideas about freedom related differently to men and women, especially in regards to societal notions of authenticity and leadership. I focus on Western Europe, since this was where modern ideas surrounding authenticity were initially formulated (Taylor, 1991). In tracing authenticity’s modern underpinnings to the emergence of bourgeois selfhood, I show how gendered notions of what constituted right conduct served to enhance men’s freedom while simultaneously restricting women’s agency.
Rita A. Gardiner

5. Authenticity, Ethics and Leadership

In this chapter, I explore whether authenticity, in and of itself, can guard against unethical conduct. My interest in this topic emerges from my discussions with research participants. For example, although most women leaders I interviewed regarded authenticity as important in regards to leading ethically, not everyone was convinced. One participant argued that the problem with management theories like authentic leadership is that they fail to account for the problem of a leader’s ‘dirty hands’. I want to address this issue of ‘dirty hands’ by considering how authenticity is connected to ethical action in leaders, and others.
Rita A. Gardiner

6. Troubling Method

In the last chapter, I suggested that authenticity requires not just an internal sense of purpose, but also responsiveness towards others. Such a responsive orientation necessitates a willingness to think from different perspectives so as to enrich one’s understanding. Arendt described this pursuit as ‘thinking without a bannister’, an activity that requires a person to move beyond the constraints of their own assumptions. As part of my attempt to ‘think without a bannister’, and enhance my understanding of the connections among gender, authenticity and leadership, I conducted a qualitative study. The purpose of this chapter is to explore my qualitative approach, which is in the tradition of existential, hermeneutic phenomenology, coupled with a feminist orientation.
Rita A. Gardiner

7. Telling Tales Out of School

In a letter to her friend the novelist Mary McCarthy, Arendt (1995) states ‘I wish you would write about what it is in people that makes them want a story … Life itself is full of tales’ (p. 129). For Arendt, narrative enables us to find meaning, and gain a sense of who we are in relation to others. In this chapter, I explore the situated, embodied nature of leadership through the narrative accounts provided by ten senior women leaders in higher education. My main purpose is to show how these diverse accounts offer insights into the interconnections among gender, authenticity and leadership.
Rita A. Gardiner

8. Themes

In this chapter, I draw together salient themes that emerged from the interviews with women leaders. The first theme concerns the conflicts that arise when institutional objectives are at odds with personal convictions. The second theme relates to care and relationships. Gender and embodiment constitutes the third theme. Intersectional identity constitutes the fourth, and anxiety represents the final theme. Then, I briefly discuss two outlying themes that have phenomenological importance. Finally, I bring together the different strands of this discussion to consider how these women’s descriptive accounts shed light on the interconnections among gender, authenticity and leadership. Throughout, I connect these themes with Arendt’s reflections on leadership.
Rita A. Gardiner

9. Concluding Remarks

This phenomenological investigation has revealed some significant shortcomings in current accounts of authentic leadership. I have argued that a focus on specific quantifications is not robust enough to explain the concept of authentic leadership. Indeed, current definitions of authentic leadership remain problematic in part because of the tendency among some leadership scholars to define and constrain the ways in which authenticity reveals itself. Such thinking is troubling since it ignores how the intersections of identity, as well as cultural contexts, affect the theory and practice of leadership. This way of thinking about leadership privileges the universal over the particular, what Arendt (1958, p. 289) termed the ‘Archimedean worldview’. Such abstraction is not a useful way of conceptualizing how leadership works, particularly within everyday life. Rather, it is through our intersubjective, embodied relationships that we define ourselves. These meaningful encounters always take place within a world of others.
Rita A. Gardiner


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